Emperor's visit could help revive tourism from Japan - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Emperor's visit could help revive tourism from Japan

Mike McCartney Mike McCartney

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko's visit has been covered extensively, not only by the local media, but also by Japanese TV and print reporters. So what impact does this have on tourism from Japan to Hawaii?

It's a bit too early to tell, but the emperor's visit is definitely causing quite a stir in Japan. Images of him and the empress being warmly greeted by the people of Hawaii can only mean good things for relations between the two nations.

Hawaii rolled out the red carpet for Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Gov. Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii) presented them with lei Wednesday, and the people of Hawaii gave them the royal treatment wherever they went.

"I think the emperor's visit to Hawaii is very significant and very meaningful," said Mike McCartney, Hawaii Tourism Authority's president and CEO. "I think it symbolizes the unique relationship Hawaii and Japan have. I think it's one about friendship, about mutual respect and trust, and it was a great honor to have him here."

McCartney says this visit can only mean good things for both countries.

"So I think it shows our relationship goes beyond anything that's happened between our countries and we're bound to this friendship and this relationship," he said.

Almost 17 percent of Hawaii's population are of Japanese ancestry, representing the largest ethnic group in the state.

"Like for myself, I'm half Okinawan, half Japanese, so my grandparents came from Japan so it was very special to see that and to be a part of it," said McCartney. "So I think a lot of people feel that way, that it's part of Hawaii's culture, its history, its heritage."

Tourism from Japan has been down recently compared to last year. The economy and concerns about swine flu are blamed, but this new image of the majesties enjoying Hawaii could help erase any fears about traveling to Hawaii.

"I think it sends a good and positive signal to everyone around the world that it's okay to travel and we're very honored and privileged that he came here, and to spend the time here," said McCartney. "But I think more importantly, it is about the relationship Hawaii and Japan has and I think it's very special. It was very symbolic that he came and we're very pleased and honored."

Numbers for July are slightly down from last year, but projections show things start to pick up in August. And by September, tourism officials expect an increase from 2008 because of a holiday called "Silver Week." Recently they've increased marketing in Japan and it appears to be working.

And the emperor's spokesperson agrees. He says the fact that Japan's emperor and empress are here in Hawaii, shows they're not worried about getting sick.

"I know there have been concerns about the decrease of Japanese tourists because of the swine flu but for the Japanese to see the emperor and the empress so warmly welcomed by the people of Hawaii, enthusiastically welcomed, will have, I hope, some positive effect," said Sadaaki Numata, the Emperor's spokesperson.

This is their first trip to the islands in 15 years. Emperor Akihito represents the longest, continuing hereditary monarchy in the world. The empire of Japan was founded back in 660 B.C.

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